J. David Newman is the executive editor of Ministry.

A piece of doggerel says this concerning leaders: People's faults are many, but leaders have only two: everything they say and everything they do.

Being a leader has never been easy even in the best of times. I would like to argue that the local conference president holds the most difficult leadership position in the Adventist Church. His is the only level where a majority of laity vote on his selection. While General Conference presidents are almost always reelected and union presidents follow close behind, conference presidents are often challenged.

Churches implore him to find the angel Gabriel for their pastor. Schools expect him to conjure up more finances. The hierarchy press for an aggressive evangelistic program while balancing the books. Any problem that develops he must somehow be responsible for. He sits on a hundred committees and receives a thousand phone calls a day.

He usually has a wife and children who would like to call him husband and father. And he desperately needs time each day to spend with God establishing his priorities.

A story is told of a young administrator taking over from the departing president. "What advice can you give me as I take on this new responsibility?" the new administrator asked.

"In the right drawer of your desk you will find three sealed envelopes numbered one, two, and three.

"Whenever you reach a crisis that seems unsolvable, open an envelope and follow its counsel."

At first there were no problems. Then suddenly a terrible crisis struck. Not knowing which way to turn, the young president opened the drawer and lifted out the first envelope. Feverishly he ripped it open. "Blame the previous administration," he read. So he did, and survived.

A few months later he ran into another crisis. He opened the second envelope. "Blame the higher levels of the church." Again he survived.

When the third crisis struck he wondered what advice the last envelope would offer. Frantically he tore it open. "Begin preparing three envelopes."

Leadership may not be quite that stressful, but it is certainly no picnic. Every president desires to be a spiritual leader. People want him to be a dynamic preacher. He wishes he could study more, but the pressure of administrative duties demand all his attention. He must press for unity while supporting diversity. Because of confidentiality requirements he cannot reveal information that would help to clarify many of his decisions. Thus he is often open to misunderstanding. Presidents do make mistakes, but most of the time they are trying to do their best.

Robert Greenleaf in his book Servant Leadership describes the unique position of the leader: "Those persons who are atop the pyramids often suffer from a very real loneliness. They cannot be sure enough of the motives of those with whom they must deal, and they are not on the grapevine. Most of what they know is what other people choose to tell them. They often do not know what everybody else knows, informally" (pp. 63, 64).

I do not want to leave the impression that being a conference president is an impossible job. Many have mastered the position, and there is no shortage of candidates for the office. Satisfaction comes in leading men and women to advance the kingdom of God. When churches grow, pastors develop, and victories take the place of defeats, the president sees the results of developing his gifts of administration and leadership.

We need to give our presidents all our support. Sometimes we are tempted to oppose and even seek their ouster. Like Abishai we say (figuratively), "God hath delivered thine enemy into thine hand this day: now therefore let me smite him." But quickly came the words of David: "Destroy him not: for who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord's anointed, and be guiltless?" (1 Sam. 26:8, 9).

Even though God had rejected Saul, David let God remove him. Perhaps he remembered what happened when Miriam opposed Moses, the leader of God's people. She was struck with leprosy and had to leave the camp for a time (Num. 12:14).

Separation is the ultimate fate of all those who fight leadership. There cannot be harmony unless there is agreement. If an individual cannot support the leader, then that person should seek a position elsewhere. This does not mean that we rubber stamp all decisions that leaders make, but recognize that theirs is a lonely position and they need our support rather than our complaints.

Let us never forget the counsel that Daniel gave to Nebuchadnezzar: "He [God] removeth kings, and setteth up kings" (Dan. 2:21). It is God's job to appoint and disappoint conference presidents. --J. David Newman.


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J. David Newman is the executive editor of Ministry.

August 1988

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